A Glimmer of Hope in the Healthcare Debate

On Friday, Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump suffered a humiliating defeat as their healthcare proposal was pulled from a scheduled vote. It’s withdrawal, and Ryan’s admission that “Obamacare will remain the law of the land for the foreseeable future” makes it all the more likely that the United States is joining most other developed nations on the planet in agreeing that healthcare is a right to all citizens.

The collapse of Ryan’s bill was brought about by an unlikely coalition: Democrats and many skeptical Republicans who, under intense pressure from their constituents, knew that voting in favor of a bill so transparently slanted towards the wealthy and insurers would be a death sentence for their political career.

Since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law seven years ago, Republicans have assured voters of many things. They assured Americans that this was the first step towards a large-scale socialist economy, and that the markets would implode of their own accord. They promised that older Americans would face death panels. They assured citizens that insurers would raise costs substantially to comply with the excessive regulation.

The ACA certainly had its problems at launch. The online marketplaces didn’t work properly. Americans who didn’t understand the concept of the mandate found themselves not getting a tax refund, or owing the government more money than they expected. The messaging was flawed, and the outcome of the legislation would not provide the instant gratification many Americans may have been expecting. Fox News and other media outlets seized on sensational stories of people’s healthcare costs rising significantly.

During Obama’s tenure, Congress voted dozens of times to force a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. At times, it felt to voters like Obama’s veto power was the only thing keeping the legislation afloat. When Trump won the requisite electoral votes to become president in November 2016 while Republicans secured both the House and the Senate, many feared (or cheered) the seemingly-inevitable overturning of the law.

But since the law’s passage, many have come to appreciate its checks on the insurance companies. Parents have appreciated being able to keep their children on their own healthcare plans until age 26, as these young adults try to find a place in the workforce. The requirement that preexisting conditions be covered has ensured that no customer be treated as a radioactive scourge, and the elimination of lifetime caps ensures that treatment won’t forestall an inevitable death sentence. The online marketplaces, once mocked for their flaws, have become pretty effective at helping Americans compare the costs and benefits of many different health plans.

Republicans remained adamant that the law needed to be repealed and replaced. Yet after seven years and promises of a much better system that would expand freedom and lower costs, they had nothing to show for it. Americans reacted angrily, having suddenly become very aware of the benefits they were utilizing that were included in the ACA, and they let their elected officials in Congress know. Town halls were packed with angry constituents and fiery exchanges were recorded and aired across the country.

The GOP, and Paul Ryan especially, should be embarrassed and ashamed. With no more excuses—with no threat of a presidential veto and the necessary votes on purely partisan lines—there was nothing to stop the GOP from finally realizing what most of them have based their campaigns on since 2009. The lack of imagination in the law, and the apathy towards the voters it ought to serve, was stunning. That Ryan has insisted Obamacare repeal was a priority for his agenda, and that it fell flat on its face with no obstacles but the voters demonstrates just how out of touch the man is with Americans.

At the same time, perhaps it’s better late than never that enough Republican legislators have come to realize the meaningful, positive impact the law has made for many Americans. To be clear, the ACA is still at risk so long as Ryan, Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hold so much power in the federal government. However, with midterms not too far away, it’s unlikely support for a new plan that resembles the just-defeated one will come anymore easily to them.

With the acceptance of the premise that healthcare is a right, intellectuals on both sides of the aisle may yet be able to debate and govern constructively, finding ways to improve healthcare. Those who believe the ACA was going to solve all American healthcare woes were never realistic in the first place. There is a role to be played by both Republicans and Democrats in finding ways to decrease the costs of drugs and health services. There is room for Democrats and Republicans to debate ways to address the physical and mental health challenges that contribute to those costs. Both parties have the power to shape the discussion by leveraging the important values of social justice and personal responsibility in addressing who and how these costs are borne.

They could never confront these difficult and important questions together when one side refused to acknowledge on the basis that healthcare was not a right, and therefore not a concern of American government. Yet the provisions of the ACA have become widely appreciated and, in some cases, crucial to the ongoing survival of many Americans. It appears that many members of both parties have finally taken notice, at least for now, and that bodes well for the possible return of constructive debate and bipartisan progress. With that, there is an amazing opportunity to promote the health and wellbeing of all Americans like never before. Such would exemplify the ongoing story of American growth, renewal and ingenuity.

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